Crying in Starbucks

February 4th, 2014

If you had seen me in Starbucks on the morning of November 13th, you would have seen an exhausted young man get in line, order a drink, receive his order, and break down into a violent sob. The crying grew until it reached a steady stream of tears and gasps for breath.

I tried to cover my eyes and shield my face from the line of customers staring aghast in shock.

You would have seen me walk out of the Starbucks, leaving my drink at the counter. You would have been one of those in the line, awkwardly wondering what was going on in my life. There wouldn’t be much I could do to explain to you why I was crying like that in a public place. I could try, but hardly any of it would make sense, unless you experienced what I experienced.

A year prior to that cold morning in November, I boarded a plane to travel to a small town that nobody paid attention to, in a country that no one paid attention to: The Republic of Georgia.

I spent ten months in this country. A country that most Americans would confuse for a state.

What I’m about to tell you, you’ve heard before. It’s not new, it’s not amazing, there’s nothing fantastic or exceptional or innovative about my experience. But it is my experience, and no matter how many stories are similar, I can’t deny the way that it’s changed me and the way that it’s affected me. Breaking down in a Starbucks is the least of these effects.

In this remote town, I saw people just like you and me. They had brothers and fathers and mothers and sisters. They laughed at jokes and celebrated Christmas. Sometimes they argued over small things, like who was going to clean the dishes, and sometimes they laughed over small things, like somebody playing a practical joke.

But they didn’t have what we had. Each night, they wouldn’t lay down their heads on a mattress like you would. Or with a pillow, like you would, or with a blanket, or even a sheet. They would lay down on dirt, in a single room, two feet away from their family members. If they were lucky, they would share an old towel or a sheet of plastic. They would do this in the winter or in the summer. These people ate very little – If they were lucky, they could afford three meals of some kind of grain a day. If they were wealthy, they could afford meat, once a month.

When we’re hungry or thirsty, we go to a grocery store. When we want something that tastes good, we go to Starbucks. We get pissed and angry when our drink is messed up, or when the traffic is bad, or when we’re cold.

I’m not saying this because I think you should feel bad. I didn’t break down in Starbucks that day because I’m angry at the world.

But after I returned to the US, I felt an incredible sense of guilt. How could I live the way I was living, while so many other people lived in extreme poverty? How could I spend the same amount of money on a meal as one person would spend in a week?

When I walked out of Starbucks that morning, I tried to wipe my eyes of the tears and hoped that someday the world would make a little bit more sense to me.


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